Two whisteblowers have gone public with allegations that Georgia's Ministry of Defense is loaded with unqualified officials who were appointed only because they were political allies of the minister, and that ministry officials are using their posts to promote the minister's political party.
While this sort of behavior is common in post-Soviet government structures, including in Georgia, it is relatively rare for allegations like this to be made publicly. And the claims could damage Georgia's reputation as a reform-oriented state aiming to join Western structures like NATO.
The two MoD employees made the allegations at a press conference in Tbilisi this week. Senior officials have been appointed illegally, not through open and transparent "Western-style" competition, but through a system of nepotism and party patronage, said Beka Kiria, a senior specialist at the ministry's Defense Policy and Planning Department. The minister, Tina Khidasheli (who has just stepped down for unrelated reasons) is a member of the Republican Party.
In addition, the Strategic Communications section of the ministry has devoted all of its resources to promoting party leadership rather than the activities of the ministry, said Mariam Takaishvili, head of the ministry's section on Communication with NATO and International Organisations. Both officials said they had been reprimanded for complaining about these issues internally.
The Ministry of Defense has not publicly responded to the allegations.
"The allegations are definitely troubling, but they are not shocking revelations for anyone closely following Georgian politics," said Michael Cecire, a Caucasus defense analyst and associate scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, in an email interview with The Bug Pit. "While Georgia is well ahead of the likes of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and even Ukraine when it comes to issues of transparency and governance, cronyism and nepotism is nonetheless widely seen as a fact of life in various arms of the Georgian government."
But given the fact that Georgia's partners, particularly the U.S., have focused their security assistance efforts so heavily on reforming the ministry, the claims are likely to dispirit those partners.
"That the charges are focused on the Defense Ministry ought to cause some concern, particularly considering that the Republicans were seen as having been brought in to helm the MoD to restore not only the reform momentum that was widely seen as arrested after the ouster of Irakli Alasania, but also a more general sense of stability and unimpeachable pro-West sensibilities," Cecire said. "The Republicans have long enjoyed a good reputation in the West as committed liberals and policy-minded technocrats, so the appointment made sense at the time. But other than the MoD's frenetic NATO lobbying, and an air defense deal that was almost certainly largely teed up before they took control, one gets the feeling that there has not been the kind of progress in military readiness or reform that many observers hoped to see."